80s horror movies


Nightmare, also known as Nightmare in a Damaged Brain doesn’t know what it wants to be. It has the lingering kills and lurid trashiness of a giallo, but the structure of a slasher.

Guess that makes sense. After all, Italian director Romano Scavolini brought with him paisan peninsular sensibilities. The year checks out too. This filming of Nightmare straddled the 70s and 80s.

Like other Italian horrors, 1981’s Nightmare makes use of The Big Apple, however, instead of exploring urban seediness like The New York Ripper, it veers off to a warmer locale, almost like it was a cannibal film.

Patient George Tatum is getting treated with an experimental drug. He’s a psychopath plagued by nightmares about chopping up his parents (including his mom’s head/entrails, appearing in gruesome fashion at the foot of his bed) and the experimental pills are meant to prevent recidivism.

Director Romano Scavolini was apparently inspired by a newspaper account of CIA drug experiments, and Nightmare leads the viewer, via Tatum, outside of the mental hospital and onto 42nd Street. When Tatum hops in a car and skips town, neither the half-way house nor his attending physicians know where the heck he is.

Uh oh. Escaped mental patient on the loose! That’s the subject of more horrors than we can count.

Then, in languid, almost pastoral scenes, Tatum takes the I-95 south, through the Carolinas and down to the Sunshine State. But it’s not a scenic getaway. He has to get down to murderin’.

Nightmare appeared on the Video Nasties list, and has all the sleaziness that comes with the territory.

A killer with mommy issues is a common trope, from Psycho, through to Maniac and Friday the 13th. And speaking of the latter two, it was rumored that Tom Savini was involved in the practical effects (something the maestro vehemently denies). Anyone looking at it, can see that while the kills are over-the-top, they lack the precision and artistry Savini would bring to bear.

For Nasty completists.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Nightmare in a Damaged Brain!]

The Changeling

changeling_movieA revenant plagues the mind of a composer who’s renting an old, decrepit house. The Changeling is sorta similar to The Uninvited (1944) insofar as there’s a musician occupying a sprawling house, which turns out to be haunted. The key difference is that in this one, Mr. Russell (George C Scott) is only a tenant not an owner. There’s some consolation. Hate to lose a big investment.

Russell loses his wife and daughter in a horrific winter crash in Upstate New York. He moves to Washington State, and eventually resumes life teaching music in the local university, and sets up shop in a house that’s vacant, and which requires involvement from the local historical society (can’t stress this enough: this is NEVER a good sign).

Every dilapidated mansion needs a caretaker, and the lone Mr. Tuttle provides the blue-collar counterpoint to the overly mannered Russell, at one point apologizing for “interrupting his composin’,” as Russell’s performing Mozart’s Rondo in A to an empty, echoing abode (please see our Scary Classical Music Pieces list).

Shortly thereafter, the piano comes to life striking a lone key when he steps away from the ivories.

The Changeling takes forever to draw in the viewer, but there are enough little enticement gems, especially how the camera lingers on Russell’s back, like it’s eavesdropping. And the clanging Pavlovian bell soundtrack, interspersed with a highly effective (though now overused) children’s choir, really adds to the sense of dread.

Convinced that he’s not alone, Russell digs into the home’s dark backstory, teaming up with the real estate agent, Claire, who hooked him up with his accommodations. They find out a child died around the turn of the century, a boy, Joseph, linked to a high-powered politico.

the-changeling-movieRussell also enlists the help of a spirit medium to contact the Great Beyond. When the clairvoyant’s made a connection, her feverish message scribbling is a highlight. And we find out more about the restless spirit and how it ties into the present.

But it’s Joseph’s drowning that made this movie famous, along with the recurring bouncy ball motif, a toy belonging to Russell’s dead daughter, which is a bridge between the father and the house apparition.

The Changeling has not diminished in its capacity to instill horror.

***3/4 (out of 5)